Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. At 8 o’clock this morning Joanna Sloan, a young nurse in Belfast, was the first person in Ireland to receive a vaccine for Covid-19. A little earlier a 90-year-old Fermanagh woman, Margaret Keenan, was the first person in Britain to receive the jab. We now await the vaccine roll-out plan for this part of the island. There is at last light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, this marks a turning of the tide in our fight against this virus and the beginning of the end.
Last Wednesday, the Government voted against paying student nurses and midwives. It then justified this decision by saying that they do not get paid because they do not do real work. It has broken its promises. Promises made by the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, his predecessor, Deputy Simon Harris, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil amount to nothing.
We are standing here today talking about the student nurses working without pay on the same day that the Government will increase pay for super junior Ministers and judges. These are not normal times. The ask of student nurses is always incredible but it is extraordinary during a pandemic.
I will share with the Taoiseach some of the messages I have been sent by student nurses and midwives in reaction to his decision. Alison writes:
We start our shifts at 7:30 am. By 8, we are rushing around carrying out observations, helping patients with toileting and washes. This will bring us up to 10:30/11. Twelve o'clock comes and we do medications, blood sugars, feeds and toileting. After lunch we try and get some documentation done, call doctors, check blood results and other tasks. Teatime comes and we are back assisting with feeds, toileting and medication.
It is outrageous that the Government is saying that they don't do real work.
Rebecca says that she lives at home, unable to afford student housing and she comes home every night from work fearful that she has contracted the virus and could pass it to her immunocompromised Dad.
Ella says that every student that was on placement was forced to give up their part-time work, the work that pays their bills. She is immunocompromised and felt in danger. She was on the ward with the highest number of Covid-19 patients in the hospital and she had to isolate.
In third year, I dealt with a patient who had a major haemorrhage. The patient went into cardiac arrest. I ran for the crash cart, I alerted the nurses station to call the cardiac team, and I did chest compressions to try and keep that patient alive. The patient died. I drove home in silence and couldn't talk to my mother.
Sinead, a student midwife, says:
I have sat with women who are crying because their baby has been feeding all night. We are the ones who hold their hands and tell them everything will be ok. We are the ones who cry with them.
Our college years are spent working thirteen hour shifts in understaffed hospitals where you are counted as a member of staff. This year is more exceptional. Students now can't work a paid job due to [fear of cross-contamination]. This creates enormous strain when it comes to paying rent, fees, transport and possibly supporting [a family].
These statements illustrate the real work, real lives and real struggles of student nurses and midwives. The Taoiseach should please tell them they will be paid, and paid properly.